Choreographer's Collage: Derek Hough

“Dancing with the Stars” pro Derek Hough gets around. This year alone, in addition to the work he did on Seasons 18 and 19 of “DWTS,” he starred in both a national tour (MOVE Live on Tour with his sister, Julianne Hough) and in the hip-hop dance film Make Your Move. He even choreographed a gold-medal–winning ice-dancing waltz for Meryl Davis and Charlie White for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and a sultry tango for American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland. Dance Spirit caught up with Hough, who recently earned his sixth Emmy nomination for his choreography on Season 18 of “DWTS,” to find out what inspires his work.

Derek Hough with Amy Purdy in Too Darn Hot (photo by Adam Taylor/ABC)

“I’ve realized that when I hear a song I like, I see colors and shades, like blue, red or an amber glow. That color paints the mood for the rest of the piece. For the jazz duet Too Darn Hot I created for Amy Purdy and myself, I envisioned a smoky haze—and imagined we were in an old-timey detective’s office. I stuck with that first instinct. On ‘DWTS,’ the costumes are designed before a routine’s choreography is finished. So you really need a strong vision before you begin.”

“I’m totally inspired by Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo’s energy and work ethic. Their pieces are so fun and creative. And I love watching Travis Wall. He has such a beautiful sense of flow, and he’s evolved so much as a dancer. I’m blessed to have become friends with such phenomenal talents.”

“Reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and books by Deepak Chopra, has taught me to be in the moment. If I’m fully present, everything I see can become a set piece. I’ve learned the best ideas come when you’re vigilant and aware of your surroundings.”

“Most of the time, ‘DWTS’ chooses music for us to use. But earlier this year I heard Christina Perri’s song ‘Human’ and knew I had to use it on the show. It spoke to Amy’s journey from losing her legs at 19 to becoming a Paralympic snowboarder. The same thing happened with Hardwell’s song ‘Dare You,’ which I chose for our finale freestyle. Amy’s message throughout the season was about daring to get up off the ground, daring to live—the song completely fit.”

Hough partnering Allison Holker in Heart Cry (photo by Adam Taylor/ABC)

“A friend of mine wrote the music for Heart Cry, which I performed with Allison Holker on ‘DWTS.’ I wanted to choreograph a routine that was a bit of a departure from what I usually create for the show. And Allison is like my muse. I love working with her, and we share a similar energy and movement quality.”

“Getting to work with Misty Copeland, who, unlike many celebrities on ‘DWTS,’ is incredibly in tune with her body, was so refreshing. It was my first time choreographing a ballet, and I threw myself into it. Over time, I’ve learned to take risks. I have confidence that I’ll figure it out along the way.”

“If I’m stressed out, or if I need to escape, I love going home to Utah. Looking out at the mountains and seeing their vastness is humbling. You can step back and say, ‘You know what? I’m all right.’ The mountains help put my problems in perspective.”

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